How Taylor Swift, Drake and celebrities with private jets affect the climate

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Music megastars Taylor Swift and Jay-Z are no strangers to the top of the charts. But recently, the two Grammy-winning artists found themselves high on a new list: “Celebs with the worst CO2 emissions from private jets”.

The analysis of the flight data, which was published online Friday by a UK-based sustainability marketing agency, tracked other high-profile celebrities such as Kylie Jenner and Drake who have stood up to intense public criticism after it was revealed that their private spewing emissions the jets recorded journeys as short as 17 minutes and 14 minutes, respectively.

Use data from a popular twitter account which tracks flights of celebrity-owned planes, the marketing agency found that so far this year, celebrity-owned planes have emitted an average of more than 3,376 metric tons of CO2, or about 480 times more than the annual emissions of an average person. Swift’s jet has been identified as the “biggest celebrity CO2e polluter this year”, racking up 170 flights since January with emissions totaling more than 8,293 metric tons, according to the analysis, which has not been reviewed by peers. A plane belonging to boxer Floyd Mayweather came in second, emitting an estimated 7,076 metric tons of CO2, with a recorded trip lasting just 10 minutes. Jay-Z’s jet was third with 136 flights totaling approximately 6,981 metric tons of emissions.

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In a statement to The Washington Post, a spokesperson for Swift said, “Taylor’s jet is regularly loaned out to other people. Attributing most or all of these trips to him is obviously incorrect. Representatives for Mayweather and Jay-Z did not respond to requests for comment.

Although the analysis notes that its list is “inconclusive” and that there is “no way to determine whether these celebrities were on all recorded flights”, the authors stressed that the purpose of the report is to “highlight the harmful impact of private jets”. use” ​​– a reality that is extremely important for frequent flyers and the public to recognize, according to several experts who were not involved in the flight data study. Many other people also often rely on private jets, including politicians, government officials, athletes, business executives, and wealthy individuals.

“A short jump with a private jet requires flying a 10-20 ton jet through the air and then moving it from point A to point B,” said Peter DeCarlo, associate professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins University. studies atmospheric air pollution. “I know nobody likes being stuck in traffic, but you don’t launch your car into the air. … Taking a huge piece of metal and putting it in the sky is going to create a huge carbon footprint that really isn’t necessary, especially for these kinds of short distances.

And while DeCarlo and other experts have acknowledged that a blanket ban on private jet travel, which can meet essential transportation needs in some situations, is not the answer, they have encouraged people – especially celebrities with significant social influence – to consider the environmental impact of their choice and the message they could send.

“There are valid statements that grounding private jets probably won’t do what we need to move in the right direction when it comes to climate change, but that’s just really bad optics,” said DeCarlo. If people look up to celebrities as role models, “they want to emulate that behavior. Then a private jet becomes a status symbol and something that people yearn for, and that’s not what we need right now in the context of climate.

Count the environmental cost

A report released last year by Transport & Environment, a leading European campaign group on clean transport, found that a single private jet can emit 2 metric tonnes of CO2 in just one hour. To put this into context, the average person in the EU produces around 8.2 tonnes of emissions over the course of an entire year, according to the report.

But while these jets are often widely criticized for their environmental impact, it’s important to think about their emissions relative to other forms of transportation, said Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. ‘Stanford University.

Compared to fuel-efficient commercial aircraft and climate-friendly cars, such as hybrid or electric vehicles, emissions per passenger-mile are significantly higher for private jets, which typically carry fewer passengers and fly shorter distances. , Field said. But, he noted, the fuel economy of a private jet with a reasonable number of passengers could be comparable to that of a single person driving a Ford F-150 pickup truck.

“There is a certain level of environmental irresponsibility in someone driving an F-150, and certainly the same could be said about business jet travel,” he added.

Environmental concerns about private jets largely stem from how often they have become and how they are used, for example, making short trips or flying empty planes to more convenient airstrips, said Colin Murphy, deputy director of the Policy Institute for Energy. , Environment and Economics at the University of California, Davis. Not only do private jet users travel a lot, “but they generally do so less efficiently than if they were sitting in a coach seat in a 777 or one of the conventional commercial airliners.”

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Fast travel in a private jet emphasizes “the least efficient parts of the aircraft’s duty cycle,” Murphy said, noting that a huge amount of fuel is burned during takeoff and lift. of an airplane. “You have all the emissions from taxiing, engine warm-up, takeoff and climb and not so much from cruise where you actually cover the distance.”

In response to criticism of flights lasting less than 20 minutes, rapper Drake commented on Instagram, writing, “They’re just the ones moving planes to whatever airport they’re stored for anyone interested in the logistics… no one takes that flight. ”

But moving planes without passengers is another “really problematic use” of private jets, Murphy said.

“What you’re doing is you’re burning several hundred or thousand gallons of jet fuel to save a few hours from a load of people or a few load of people,” he said. “Is this really the compromise we want to say acceptable in a world where climate change is no longer a future crisis, but a present crisis?”

Compare private to commercial

According to experts, small planes generally consume less fuel than large planes. “A fully loaded 737 has about the same emissions per passenger mile as an efficient car like a Prius,” Murphy said.

Although larger commercial planes require more fuel, they often carry significantly more people and all passengers on the flight share in the overall fuel consumption of the trip, DeCarlo said. But keep in mind, Field said, that a first or business class seat can often have a higher carbon footprint compared to an economy seat.

However, one of the main advantages of private flying is convenience.

“We live in a society where, among the very wealthy, convenience trumps everything else,” Field said, “and we would all benefit from keeping the focus on convenience in perspective.”

Getting rid of private jets is not the answer to our climate problem, experts say. While the per-capita emissions from private travel are significant, they’re still not as significant as those produced by the much larger commercial aviation industry, DeCarlo said.

Additionally, there are situations in which this type of air transport is necessary, such as during medical emergencies or when transporting donated organs, Field says. “Sometimes having the right team in the right place at the right time is really critical, and that’s what business jets can do.”

Instead of banning private jets, experts said it might be more effective to explore regulations or policies aimed at reducing the number of unnecessary trips.

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“You can imagine political levers that force you to avoid it, you can imagine economic levers that would make it so expensive it’s not worth it or the kinds of regulatory things that make it so complicated,” Field said. . “I’m in favor of anything that is effective in reducing really frivolous trips without eliminating trips that really make a difference.”

There’s probably no benefit to “demonizing business jets,” Field said. Rather, he said, people should take responsibility for their actions and consider the environmental footprint of what they do in their decision-making.

Sustainability potential

While electric aircraft prototypes are still being developed, private and commercial aviation should take advantage of high-quality carbon offsets and more sustainable alternatives to biomass, algae or plant-based jet fuel. , Field said. Currently, most of these fuels are generally better than petroleum, but Murphy noted that “they don’t produce zero emissions.”

Beyond reducing travel, private jet users should consider changing the way they fly, Field said. Longer flights carrying more passengers can help overall efficiency, he said, and flying straight instead of stopping for connections can make a difference.

While finding a long-term sustainable solution for private and commercial air travel is only one piece of the puzzle, experts have encouraged travelers to do their part.

“It’s going to be really hard to imagine a world in which we are largely successful in limiting climate change to not too many degrees above historical averages, while people are still flying in private oil-fueled jets at the rate they currently are,” Murphy said. said.

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